Tuesday, March 31, 2009

New GM CEO, Fritz Henderson, States Bankruptcy May Become More Probable

Fritz Henderson - Newly Appointed GM CEO

In Fritz's second day on the job, he held a press conference and told the media that bankruptcy is "more probable" as GM works to meet the new requirements for government aid. What is maddening is the fact that we have already given GM billions in aid and now they may declare bankruptcy anyway? Not only that, but the Obama administration just announced that the government will back all the warranty repairs on vehicles if GM or Chrysler does not survive. What an expensive and messy proposition this auto bailout has become.

From Yahoo News:

General Motors Corp.'s new chief executive said Tuesday that more of the automaker's plants could close and bankruptcy is "more probable" as GM works to meet new, tougher requirements for government aid.

In his first news conference as CEO, Fritz Henderson said he expects the company would "need to take further measures" beyond the five plants the company said it would shutter when it submitted a restructuring plan to the government last month.

GM also is likely to offer another buyout program to workers as it looks to cut labor costs, Henderson said.

President Barack Obama said Monday that GM's initial plans to become viable didn't go far enough. He gave the company 60 days to make more cuts and get more concessions from bondholders and unions or it won't get any more government help.

The Obama administration also asked former CEO Rick Wagoner to resign, and Henderson took over as CEO on Monday.

Henderson said that although GM would prefer not to use bankruptcy protection to save itself, it is "certainly more probable" than in the past.

The company, he said, has until June 1 to accomplish changes sought by the government, or it will be in bankruptcy. The 60-day deadline should be enough time, but if it becomes evident that the changes can't be made by the deadline, GM could go into court sooner, he said.

"It doesn't have to take 60 days. If it's quite clear that we're not able to accomplish what we need to do in terms of operational restructuring, reduction of debt on the balance sheet and what we need to do to accomplish these broad parameters of having a viable business, this will be a management judgment" reviewed by the Obama administration's autos task force, he said.

Henderson also said GM is still talking with potential buyers of the Hummer brand, and a decision on the brand's fate will come in the next few weeks. GM said in a viability plan filed with the government in February that it would make the decision in the first quarter, which ends Tuesday.

In an effort to increase sales, GM launched a program called "Total Confidence" that will make car payments for customers who lose their jobs through no fault of their own.

GM will make up to nine payments of $500 each to qualifying customers. Consumers must qualify for state unemployment benefits to be eligible for the program.

The program starts Wednesday and runs until April 30.

Ford Motor Co. announced a similar program Tuesday, which will take over customer's payment of up to $700 a month for a year in the event of job loss.

Shares of GM fell 32 cents, or 11.9 percent, to $2.38 in midday trading. Ford shares fell 6 cents, or 2.2 percent, to $2.70.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Detroit Electric and Proton Announce Strategic Partnership to Produce Real EV's at a Real Price

The Detroit Electric Vehicle

This news is exciting. Detroit Electric Holdings and Proton Holdings are collaborating to bring us a real, electric vehicle at a real, reasonable price. The city variant will travel up to 112 miles and the extended range model travels 202 miles. Don't forget to subtract the $7,500 federal tax rebate and you wind up with a great alternate energy vehicle at an affordable price.

I am very excited for this car to come to the US.

From Green Car Congress:

The DE e63 in a media test drive at the Proton Center of Excellence track in Malaysia. Click to enlarge.

Detroit Electric Holdings Ltd, originally formed as a joint venture between ZAP and China Youngman Group (earlier post), and Malaysia-based Proton Holdings Berhad are forming a strategic partnership for the mass production of electric vehicles.

Under the agreement, Detroit Electric will license two Proton vehicle platforms and contract Proton to assemble the vehicles, using the Detroit Electric drive systems. The vehicles will then be marketed under Detroit Electric’s brand.

“When you are trying to redefine the automotive industry, you need to bring many partners along.”
—Albert Lam, Detroit Electric’s Chairman and CEO

Detroit Electric plans to begin sales in 2010; its plans call for selling more than 270,000 EVs in Europe, UK, China and the United States by 2012. The vehicles will be priced between US$23,000 and US$26,000 for a city range option and between US$28,000 and US$33,000 for an extended range option. Styling changes will distinguish Detroit Electric’s vehicles from Proton’s existing line-up.

Proton, established in 1983, is Malaysia’s largest manufacturer of automobiles, currently producing 270,000 vehicles of various models annually in Malaysia.

The Detroit Electric drive system incorporates a 75 kW (150 kW peak) axial magnetic flux motor and a 25 kWh lithium-ion polymer (LiPo) battery pack to support a single-charge range of 180 km (112 miles) for the city range option. A 40 kWh pack supports a single-charge range of 325 km (202 miles) for the extended range option.

Detroit Electric currently has specified two models, the DE e63 and the slightly smaller, “race-inspired” DE e46. The DE e63 will offer a choice of the city-range or extended range battery packs; the e46 is currently spec’d to offer only the city-range pack.

The 25 kWh LiPo battery pack has a recharge time of 8 hours at 13 Amps, <3.2>

The axial magnetic flux motor develops torque of 350-380 Nm (258-280 lb-ft). Acceleration from 0 to 100 km/h is less than 8 seconds, and top speed is 180 km/h (112 mph).

Detroit Electric will be responsible for the homologation of the vehicles and for vehicle certification in the US and European markets. Detroit Electric will assume all warranty and liabilities for the Electric Vehicles, while Proton will warranty the vehicle’s build and standard components.

The agreement also initiates the test and validation program in which Proton will evaluate Detroit Electric’s electric drive system with the intent to license the rights to distribute, market and sell vehicles under the Proton brand in Asia.

Detroit Electric is in the final stage of setting up two subsidiaries: Detroit Electric Energy, which will produce the battery technology, and Detroit Electric Advanced Propulsion Lab, which will manufacture the motor and controller.

The Detroit Electric Advanced Propulsion Lab and Manufacturing Plant is targeted to be in Malaysia close to the vehicle assembly facilities of Proton. By 2012, the two production plants plan to produce more than 400,000 electric drive systems to meet Detroit Electric’s internal demands as well as third-party OEM’s needs.

Detroit Electric is looking to repeat similar contract production partnerships with manufacturers in Europe and the United States. This will allow the company to extend its range of models very quickly to meet demand in the different automotive segments in these markets.

President Obama Spells Out Rules for the Future of GM and Chrysler

President Obama at News Conference with Timothy Geithner

President Barack Obama said Monday that neither General Motors nor Chrysler has proposed sweeping enough changes to justify further large federal bailouts, and demanded "painful concessions" from creditors, unions and others as their price for survival.

Obama also raised the possibility of a controlled bankruptcy to help either or both "restructure quickly and emerge stronger" — uttering the term that industry and union officials have warned repeatedly could lead to the collapse of an entire domestic industry.

With his words, Obama underscored the extent to which the government is now dictating terms to two of the country's iconic corporations — forcing the departure of Rick Wagoner as CEO of General Motors, and bluntly warning it may pull the plug on either or both companies.

The Bush administration late last year approved $17 billion in federal funds to help GM and Chrysler survive. It also demanded both companies submit restructuring plans that the Obama administration would review.

Even as he pronounced their effort unsatisfactory, the president said the administration will offer General Motors "adequate working capital" over the next 60 days to produce a reorganization plan acceptable to the administration.

He said Chrysler's situation is more perilous, and the government will give the company 30 days to overcome hurdles to a merger with Fiat, the Italian automaker. If they are successful "we will consider lending up to $6 billion to help their plan succeed," he said.

Obama spoke at the White House with the Big 3 standing at yet another crossroads. As the president noted, the industry has shed over 400,000 jobs in the past year as the recession took hold. Officials announced last week bailout funds would be made available to companies that supply the automakers, an attempt to keep them afloat.

Obama said he is committed to the survival of an auto industry — on terms that will allow it to compete internationally.

"But we also cannot continue to excuse poor decisions," he said. "And we cannot make the survival of our auto industry dependent on an unending flow of tax dollars."

He also said some of the industry's progress has scarcely been noticed. He mentioned that the North American car of the year in 2008 was produced by GM.

"Let me be clear: the United States government has no interest or intention of running GM," he said.

But that was at the same time he was formally announcing the departure of Wagoner, whom administration officials forced into retirement on Sunday in preparation for the president's remarks.

"This is not meant as a criticism of Mr. Wagoner, who has devoted his life to this company; rather it's a recognition that it will take a new vision and new direction to create the GM of the future."

Other changes at GM include new directors on its board. Fritz Henderson, GM's president and chief operating officer, became the new CEO. Board member Kent Kresa, the former chairman and CEO of defense contractor Northrop Grumman Corp., was named interim chairman of the GM board.

"The board has recognized for some time that the company's restructuring will likely cause a significant change in the stockholders of the company and create the need for new directors with additional skills and experience," Kresa said in a written statement.

The Obama move comes amid public outrage over bonuses paid to business leaders and American International Group executives — set against a severely ailing economy.

GM failed to make good on promises made in exchange for $13.4 billion in government loans. Chrysler, meanwhile, has survived on $4 billion in federal aid during this economic downturn and the worst decline in auto sales in 27 years. In progress reports filed with the government in February, GM asked for $16.6 billion more and Chrysler wanted $5 billion more.

GM owes roughly $28 billion to bondholders. Chrysler owes about $7 billion in first- and second-term debt, mainly to banks. GM owes about $20 billion to its retiree health care trust, while Chrysler owes $10.6 billion.

GM and Chrysler employ about 140,000 workers in the U.S. In February, GM said it intended to cut 47,000 jobs around the globe, or almost 20 percent of its work force, close hundreds of dealerships and focus on four core brands — Chevrolet, Cadillac, GMC and Buick.

Source: Yahoo News

GM CEO Rick Wagner Steps Down, Replaced By Fritz Henderson

General Motors and Chrysler LLC will each be given capital and time to accelerate their attempts to restructure and survive, according to a government aid plan set for release today.

GM also confirmed earlier reports that Rick Wagoner has stepped down at the request of the administration. He will be succeeded as CEO by COO Fritz Henderson. Board member Kent Kresa, chairman emeritus of Northrop Grumman Corp., will be interim non-executive chairman of the GM board.

A government official, who asked not to be identified because the plan would not be announced by President Barack Obama until today, said GM will be given 60 days to determine the best path forward.

Chrysler will be given 30 days to complete a proposed alliance with Italy's Fiat SpA. If the deal is successful, the government could extend up to $6 billion in new assistance.

The official did not say how much capital each company would receive over the next several weeks, and did not indicate what long-term financing GM might receive if it shows that a turnaround plan can be successful.

Chrysler has said it needs additional funding as soon as Tuesday to avoid a cash crisis. GM has previously said it needs more than $2 billion for April.

GM has asked for more than $16 billion in new government loans, while Chrysler wants $5 billion to ride out the weakest U.S. market for new cars in almost 30 years. Ford, which is also struggling, is not seeking federal help.

Wagoner was the second car executive to lose his job on Sunday. The board of France's PSA Peugeot Citroen fired CEO Christian Streiff and replaced him with Philippe Varin, who will take up the position on June 1. Peugeot last month posted a $460 million net loss and said it expected to stay in the red until 2010.

"Mr. Wagoner has been asked to resign as a political offering despite his having led GM's painful restructuring to date," said U.S. Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, a Michigan Republican and member of the House Financial Services Committee.

Said Rebecca Lindland, director of IHS Global Insight: "We had feared the Obama administration may force some of the executives out. But we don't really see how this would make GM the better, stronger company that Obama wants it to be."

John Casesa, a managing partner at New York-based consulting firm Casesa Shapiro Group said: "GM lost its footing in the late 1970s and the board didn't seem to notice for another 20 years. Rick made a lot of decisions, but they came too late,"

GM and Chrysler have run through most of the initial rescue money and are at risk of bankruptcy without immediate help.

The government has said it does not want to push GM or Chrysler into bankruptcy, although some analysts believe that is the only way to truly restructure the companies.

Wagoner had been outspoken in his opposition to a Chapter 11 reorganization, saying it would drive away consumers and probably lead to GM's liquidation.

But neither automaker has finished the cost-cutting overhaul dictated by the terms of their December bailout launched by the Bush administration that set a March 31 deadline for determining whether the companies can be saved.

Source: Automotive News

Saturday, March 28, 2009

President Obama's Task Force Will Announce its Plans for GM and Chysler on Monday

CEO's of the "Detroit Three"

Well, they waited until the last possible moment, but it looks like the task force has made a decision. On Monday, the plan will be revealed that will maintain the viability of both auto companies.

From Automotive News:

President Barack Obama will announce the next steps to help General Motors and Chrysler LLC on Monday, the White House said, amid signs of progress for GM in talks aimed at slashing its debt and cutting costs in response to slack demand.

M CEO Rick Wagoner was in Washington Friday to meet with the autos task force, led by former investment banker Steve Rattner, which Obama has charged with overseeing emergency lending to the automakers and their suppliers.

A White House spokesman said the panel was in the process of completing about six weeks of closed-door meetings with industry executives, analysts and others with a stake in the survival of the U.S. auto industry.

"Tthey are winding down the decisions that have to be made and putting in place a plan that the president will announce on Monday," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.

"The president, I think, will outline what he thinks is the best way forward to achieve viability for the companies in both the short term and the longer term," Gibbs said.

A day earlier, Obama had said GM and Chrysler could expect "some" government aid if they commit to restructuring their businesses.

As part of its effort to slash costs and sell assets, GM has mandated Commerzbank to help find a new investor for its German Opel unit, according to a source.

Shares of GM gained almost 6 percent and have rallied by more than 30 percent over the past 10 trading sessions amid growing confidence that officials will not push the top U.S. automaker into bankruptcy.

Riding out the storm

GM and Chrysler have taken $17.4 billion in emergency funding from the U.S. Treasury and have asked for as much as another $21.6 billion to complete cost-cutting programs and ride out the weakest market for new cars in almost three decades.

U.S. auto suppliers have also won a $5 billion aid package intended to free up liquidity for a cash-strapped sector that analysts had warned was at risk for cascading failures.

Auto sales have been at 27-year lows so far this year and many analysts believe that March sales data, set to be released next Wednesday, will show a further weakening in demand.

Analysts expect March U.S. sales to be just above 9 million vehicles on the annualized basis tracked by the industry, down sharply from a total of 13.2 million in 2008 and below the worst-case scenario levels of demand forecast by GM and Chrysler under their cost-cutting plans just last month.

But Barclays Capital analyst Brian Johnson said the recent statements from the White House "could imply a willingness from the government to support both restructuring plans 'as is' instead of pushing for deeper cuts."

Those more painful actions could have included a Chrysler merger or a GM bankruptcy filing in order to push the automakers towards a lower cost structure, he said in a note for clients.

Progress in GM concession talks

The loans for GM and Chrysler approved under the Bush administration set a March 31 deadline for them to prove they can be made viable in order to win new government funding.

As part of that effort, both GM and Chrysler have to win concessions from creditors and from the UAW.

GM's bailout sets a target of cutting its cash outlays by getting the UAW to accept half of the $20 billion it is owed for a trust fund for retiree health care in GM stock, not cash.

CNBC reported Friday that GM had offered the union $10 billion in preferred stock at 9 percent to settle its health-care claim.

GM had no comment on that reported offer beyond saying the two sides remained in talks.

"We will not respond to speculation," UAW President Ron Gettelfinger said in a statement. "Our union is continuing to work with the task force and the auto companies to find a solution to the many issues we face."

Bargaining with bondholders

Separately, GM has given bondholders holding over $27 billion in its debt a new proposal on terms for exchanging most of that debt into equity, according to a person with direct knowledge of the negotiations.

GM sent a letter to representatives of GM bondholders earlier in the week, according to the person, who asked not to be named because of the confidential nature of the talks.

Bondholders had complained in a letter sent on Sunday to U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner that their negotiations on restructuring GM's debt had been stalled in recent weeks.

While it will be impossible now for GM to meet the terms of the March 31 deadline for the next stage of its restructuring, U.S. officials have made it clear that this will not scuttle further aid, the person familiar with the bondholder talks said.

In Toronto, Chrysler and the Canadian Auto Workers union remained "far apart" in negotiations aimed at a cost-saving deal to help the struggling No. 3 U.S. automaker qualify for aid from the Canadian government.

CAW President Ken Lewenza said negotiations had been "very frustrating and at times confusing" as the two sides appeared to be near a deal only to see it fall apart twice in the last 48 hours.

Friday, March 27, 2009

US Fuel Economy Standards to Rise to 27.3 mpg by 2011

Ray LaHood - Transportation Secretary

Fuel-economy standards for all light vehicles will rise 8 percent, to an average of 27.3 mpg for the 2011 model year, under new U.S. rules issued today.

The regulations will use a new system that sets standards for individual models based on their size.

Cars will be required to travel an average of 30.2 miles on each gallon of fuel, up from 27.5 mpg, and light truck standards will increase by 1 mpg to 24.1 mpg, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said today. The combined fleet average will go up by 2 mpg.

"These standards are important steps in the nation's quest to achieve energy independence and bring more fuel-efficient vehicles to American families,'' Transporation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement.

Obama's stamp

The rules are the first fuel-economy mandates set by the Obama administration. They stem from a U.S. energy law, enacted in December 2007, that will lift standards 40 percent by 2020 to a fleetwide average of at least 35 mpg.

In January, President George W. Bush decided not to establish the first phase of that increase because of the industry's financial straits and passed the decision to his successor.

President Obama faces an April 1 deadline to set the new standard for the 2011 model year.

Federal law requires NHTSA to give automakers at least 18 months lead time before imposing higher standards under the corporate average fuel economy program, or CAFE.

Source : Automotive News

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Introducing the Tesla Model S

The Exciting and Glamorous Tesla Model S

Tesla has now revealed their second all-electric vehicle, the Model S. The car is Tesla's entry into the family sized sedan sector, offering four doors while still maintaining a sexy curb appeal. This Tesla will cost you only half as much as the Roadster, but still sets you back 50 grand. The third Tesla will be a much lower cost four door sedan coming in at 30 grand.

The Model S will carry an initial price of $57,400; applying the new $7,500 Federal tax credit for plug-ins will drop the effective price to $49,900. Production is slated to begin in 2011, assuming the funding for the plant is in place.
Teslas1 Teslas2
The Tesla Model S. Click to enlarge.

The Model S has a top speed of 130 mph (209 km/h) and can get to 60 mph in 5.5 to 6 seconds. The base model of the Model S will feature a Li-ion pack supporting a 160-mile (257 km) range, with options under development for 220- (354 km) or 300-mile (483 km) range packs.

Tesla says that rapid charging will recharge the battery pack in 45 minutes. The pack is also designed to be swapped out relatively quickly, in a nod to Better Place’s initiative.

A Closer Look at Plug-In Hybrid Vehicle Dollars and Sense

A Toyota Prius Modified to Plug In

John Voelcker’s article “How Green Is My Plug-In?” delves into the carbon impact of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs), and it generated quite a bit of discussion. After that article appeared in March 2009, IEEE Spectrum’s David Schneider spoke with Jeremy Michalek, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering and of engineering and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU). Michalek’s upcoming study in Energy Policy looks at the sizing of batteries for such cars; in it, he calculates that plug-in hybrids with large battery packs—like the 2011 Chevrolet Volt—may never save consumers any money.

The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) has a different view of the future than Michalek does. Here, in an interview with Voelcker, Mark Duvall, director of electric transportation at EPRI, explains the results of his organization’s detailed analyses of the environmental and energy impacts of PHEVs—which were conducted with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)—and relates some of the experiences developing models of the impact of plug-in hybrid technology.

IEEE Spectrum: What was your goal in doing the EPRI-NRDC study?

Mark Duvall: We wanted to conduct the first comprehensive study of the environmental impacts of plug-in hybrid vehicles—both for greenhouse-gas emissions and air quality. To really analyze these issues, you need sophisticated and detailed models of the electricity sector to understand which power plants would be used to generate the electricity to charge PHEVs.

Spectrum: Did that study assess the costs of cutting carbon using plug-in hybrids?

MD: That’s very difficult to do for vehicle technologies. While transportation as a whole is a large emitter of greenhouse gases, each vehicle saves a very small amount of carbon [one liter of gasoline produces about 3 kilograms of CO2; 1 gallon, about 11 kg If you don’t get all of the costs exactly right—especially the purchase cost of the vehicle—you get really large variations in cost-effectiveness, all the way from saving money by cutting carbon to costs of US$ 1000 or more per ton of carbon. Our work indicates that PHEVs, once the technology matures and they attain volume production, can be manufactured and sold for a reasonable price and that owners can expect to save money over the useful life of the vehicle.

Spectrum: One area where you differed with the Carnegie Mellon study was the cost of batteries, which it pegged at $1000 per kilowatt-hour. How do you view that estimate?

MD: We agree that until battery costs reach some more reasonable level (for example, $500/kWh), no plug-in hybrid can save enough fuel to cover its higher production cost. However, we’ve done quite a lot of cost modeling. Once batteries drop to the $500/kWh range, our studies indicate that plug-in hybrids with 10, 20, and 40 miles of range will all save money over their useful life—and this was with gasoline at about $3 per gallon. If gasoline costs more, as many analysts seem to expect, then the savings increase.

Spectrum: When do you see batteries dropping to that level?

MD: We are seeing some indications that battery costs for high-volume orders may be below $1000/kWh already. With the large number of production PHEVs now planned, and the current focus on developing cell-manufacturing capacity, I expect that we will see these price levels by the time the second generation of PHEVs arrives, in 2015 or so.

Spectrum: Are there other cost components to plug-in hybrids besides the battery pack?

MD: Absolutely. The electric motors, power electronics, and electric accessories are also pricey, and every one of those components is needed in some form for any type of hybrid or plug-in hybrid. This is why our cost studies found that shorter-range PHEVs didn’t have the best economics. The “sweet spot” appears to be about 20 miles for typical driving patterns. But if you habitually drive longer distances, you might want more electric range, and vice versa.

Still, battery cost is the primary bogey. The CMU study looked at variations in cell cost and state-of-charge range (the amount of a pack’s total energy capacity used, which is generally maintained within limits—30 percent to 80 percent for example—to avoid overstressing the battery), but not at the combination of those changes. That study’s assumptions—$1000/kWh, and a 50 percent state-of-charge range—correspond fairly well with what we expect first-generation plug-in vehicles to offer. That cost is almost entirely due to the limited volume and conservative approaches used by the automakers when launching new technologies.

Once production volumes increase and the industry feels more certain about the real-world performance of the batteries, we will likely see cost fall to $500/kWh and the state-of-charge range rise to as much as 80 percent. Those changes will cut vehicle mass to less than the most lightweight case in the CMU study. These factors really have to be considered together, not separately, to get an idea of where things are headed.

Spectrum: What effect does the larger battery pack’s higher mass have on a plug-in with greater electric range?

MD: Adding mass to a vehicle clearly reduces its efficiency somewhat. However, with plug-in hybrids, a larger battery comes with a more powerful, more capable electric drive system. Among the improvements accompanying the larger battery are higher system efficiency, greater regenerative braking capacity, and higher average engine thermal efficiency—all of which raise the car’s overall efficiency. We have a lot of detailed modeling work to show that even in “charge-sustaining mode” (where gasoline provides all the energy), plug-in hybrids hold their own or do better against today’s hybrids. And to some extent, plug-ins with larger batteries can hold their own against systems with smaller batteries. So to assume that the larger battery of a PHEV or EREV (extended-range electric vehicle) will significantly impact electric energy efficiency is simply not the case.

Spectrum: The CMU study seems to indicate that even with gasoline at $6 a gallon, a plug-in hybrid with 7 miles of electric range will save its owner money, but the 40-mile range of a car like the 2011 Chevrolet Volt never will. How do the conclusions of your study differ, and why?

MD: We disagree on the relative costs and attributes of a “mild” (low-electric range) PHEV against a vehicle like the Chevrolet Volt. EPRI has a detailed analysis on PHEVs with 10 miles (PHEV-10) and 20 miles (PHEV-20) of electric range; for most drivers, the PHEV-20 wins on cost at gasoline prices of $3 a gallon and higher. This is because the PHEV-10 has all the costs of the PHEV-20—a hybrid drive system, electric accessories, regenerative braking system, et cetera—but its battery is slightly more expensive and heavier per kilowatt-hour because it still has to produce the same power level.

Spectrum: To jump-start the market for plug-ins, the U.S. government will grant billions of dollars in tax credits to consumers who buy vehicles with packs in the 4-kWh to 16-kWh range. When will these plug-in vehicles be able to compete without subsidies against liquid-fuel cars?

MD: We anticipate that by 2015 or so, around the time the government subsidies expire, there will be a robust and mature market for all types of PHEVs, EREVs, and even battery-only electric vehicles.

Spectrum: What do you consider to be the most cost-effective way to displace gasoline in U.S. transportation?

MD: There are numerous studies in this area. The answer is probably somewhat boring, like driving less, driving slower, or introducing minimum tire-efficiency standards.

But reducing petroleum consumption to any reasonable level will require us to use every technology we have that can be made cost-effective. Hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and electric vehicles are just a few of the options we need to develop if we are to have any hope of making progress on this issue. But we don’t see them as competing with other options—biofuels, public transit, et cetera—because we’ll need all of those as well.

Spectrum: Michalek’s advice to consumers was “Buy small, charge often.” What’s your thought there?

MD: This is a terrible idea. Frequent charging of a smaller battery will wear it out very quickly. Market research shows that vehicle owners expect the battery to last the life of the car. This makes sense, considering that we’re now used to 100 000 to 150 000 relatively trouble-free miles from a new car. The more frequently you charge and discharge a battery, the shorter the time until you have to replace it.

For example, let’s say I have a battery that lasts for 4000 deep cycles—a challenging goal, but one that our research and testing in this area leads us to believe today’s battery technology can reach. If I buy a 7-mile PHEV and drive it exactly 7 miles between charge cycles, I will need to replace the battery in just 28 000 miles. No one will be very happy with that. In fact, we have market studies that show consumers would be unhappy.

But if I buy a 40-mile PHEV and drive it exactly 40 miles between charges, I’ll have 160 000 miles on it when the battery wears out. And the difference in battery life is even greater, since a 40-mile battery will make a lot of trips of fewer than 40 miles, with correspondingly less discharge, whereas most drivers are likely to completely discharge a 7-mile battery on almost every trip.

One question I would add: Is it worthwhile to go past 40 miles of electric range? A little less than 80 percent of U.S. drivers travel fewer than 40 miles per day. Also, if you charge a Chevy Volt at work, it is roughly equivalent to a battery-only electric vehicle with an 80-mile range. Several years ago, we analyzed a PHEV with 60 miles of range and found the savings from 60 miles is not that much higher than 40 miles—unless you have a really long commute.

In real life, most of these vehicles will run on a mix of electricity and gasoline. Otherwise, they’d be electric vehicles! But it’s vital to note that the smaller the battery is, the harder it becomes to make it last the lifetime of the car. That’s why a plug-in with 7 miles of range probably won’t offer a lot of electric-only range. It will operate in hybrid mode most of the time, blending gasoline and electricity. So it will drive a lot like your current hybrid, only with better fuel economy. If you want real electric range, even for around-town driving, you realistically need the equivalent of at least a 15- or 20-mile battery.

Spectrum: In less than two years, we will see first-generation plug-in hybrids available for sale in the United States. What are the biggest unknowns for future generations of plug-in technology?

MD: We are primarily concerned with how fast the market will grow. I would be happy with a growth rate similar to hybrid vehicles, which have reached a total of 1 million sales in the United States after eight years—though I would prefer we get there quicker. This will require lots of manufacturers entering the market, strong customer demand, and a variety of vehicles to choose from. I’m not worried about the vehicles themselves; they will be very, very good.

Spectrum: Any last comments?

MD: The real strength of the plug-in hybrid concept is that the battery can be sized to accommodate the daily driving patterns of most users. The data tell us that more than 70 percent of U.S. drivers cover fewer than 40 miles a day. There is no one “right amount” of electric range, because everyone has different needs and price sensitivities. Remember that when hybrids were first introduced, most analysts complained that none of them made economic sense. Now nearly all of them do. We expect the same thing to happen for plug-in hybrids with 10 to 40 miles of range.

In the end, people will buy plug-ins because they want them, and the most important thing automakers can do is give them reasons to buy them. It is more important to get well-engineered plug-in vehicles into production as soon as possible and get them out there than to worry about what amount of range is best.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Toyota to Develop Yaris Sized Hybrid to Compete With Insight

The Toyota Yaris - Destined to be a Hybrid

The green car race between Toyota and Honda is heating up.

Toyota Motor Corp. plans a new small hybrid car to take on the Insight, the inexpensive Honda hybrid that just reached the United States.

The small gasoline-electric car being planned will be a low-priced spinoff of the Toyota Yaris, said Akihiko Otsuka, chief engineer of the redesigned, third-generation Toyota Prius.

"We are developing a low-priced hybrid vehicle like Honda's Insight," Otsuka said. "We are going to compete by expanding our hybrid-vehicle lineup to smaller hybrids, in the class of the Vitz [sold in Japan] and Yaris." He did not say when the small hybrid would debut, but it could arrive as early as 2011, according to Japan's Nikkei business newspaper.

Toyota's plan is the clearest sign yet that it is worried about the inroads that its domestic arch rival is making into small, low-priced hybrid vehicles. The Honda Insight, which starts at around $20,000, is selling briskly in Japan and will be followed by a hybrid version of the Fit compact.

Cheaper than a Prius

By contrast, Toyota's third-generation Prius has a bigger engine and many options common to premium cars. The current, second-generation Prius, at around $22,000, already is more expensive than the Insight. The updated model is expected to be even pricier when it arrives in May in U.S. showrooms.

Otsuka said the small hybrid being developed will be cheaper than the Prius.

Toyota's hybrid strategy calls for bringing more core technologies in-house, he added. The electric motor and inverter for the Prius currently are manufactured by Toyota.

The company also is developing its own lithium ion batteries so it won't be overly reliant on its joint venture with Panasonic for power packs, Otsuka said.

The Prius uses nickel-metal hydride batteries supplied by Panasonic EV Energy Co. But future green cars are seen switching to lithium ion because they are lighter and more powerful.

Honda is teaming with Japanese battery maker GS Yuasa Corp. to develop its lithium ion power packs. The Insight uses nickel-metal hydride batteries from Sanyo.

Better aerodynamics

Otsuka said the top priority in developing the new Prius was to boost fuel efficiency, not reduce the price. Through countless overhauls, he achieved a preliminary EPA fuel economy rating to 51 mpg city/48 highway, up from 48/45 mpg for the 2009 Prius.

Foremost among the improvements is better aerodynamics. The new Prius has a drag coefficient of 0.25, the slickest in Toyota's lineup. That compares with 0.26 for the current Prius. That difference alone delivers a 1 percent increase in overall mileage, Otsuka said.

The latest Prius also gets a 1.8-liter gasoline engine, up from the current generation's 1.5 liters, so it can get better fuel efficiency at higher speeds.

While the new Prius shares the same name as its predecessor, it has a new platform it shares with the Auris, which replaced the Toyota Corolla hatchback in Europe. The new Prius also shares more parts with the Auris than with the second-generation Prius.

"The Auris platform was designed so it could also carry a hybrid system," Otsuka said. "By making it flexible, it can accommodate future overseas production and reduce costs."

Source : Automotive News

Volt Integration Vehicle to Debut June 1st

The 2010 Chevy Volt

One of the final stages in bringing the Chevy Volt to fruition will be the manufacturing of "integration" vehicles. These cars will have the body and interior of the Chevy Volt and will be used to finalize testing and to perfect the assembly process. Currently, the Volt drivetrain (dubbed Voltec) is being tested in Chevy Cruze mules. A mule is simply a gutted vehicle with all the innards of a Volt installed. This is a very big milestone in the birth of the Volt and hopefully, there will not be any setbacks so that we can see this car in production come late 2010.

From GM-Volt.com:

Currently GM has a few more than 30 Cruze-shell mule prototypes running around the proving grounds and in various test facilities. These cars have been performing flawlessly. Though containing a near-final Chevy Volt powertrain and battery, they do not possess the true Chevy Volt interior or exterior design.

The next critical stage in Volt development process will be the building of true to form and function Chevrolet Volt prototypes. This particular level of vehicle are known as integration vehicles or as GM calls them, IVers.

Andrew Farah, the Volt’s lead engineer actually has a countdown clock in his office revealing that 63 days from today, assembly of the first true Volt will start. All the parts will be lined up at the low volume assembly facility and will begin to come together that day. Andrew notes the first one will take longer to produce, but for all intents and purposes will come to life on June 1st. They will then be built at a rate of roughly 10 per week until a total fleet of over 80 is completed.

Those cars “will look, taste, smell, and feel like the Volt. They are the Volt,” said Farah “my goal is by Forth of July to be out driving several of them.”

By the fall, it could be argued that GMs Volt fleet will surpass the size of the fleets of many of the start-up electric car manufacturers.

According to Greg Ceisel, GM’s Voltec manager, 2010 will bring several more build stages. “We’ve got several phases leading up to the production launch where we build larger and larger batches,” says Ciesel “in each phase as we perfect the production process, make sure we’ve got all the fit finish and other details exactly correct and that the quality of the vehicle meets our standards before we go into the first vehicles that will ultimately be saleable vehicles that will be shipped to the dealerships.”

He said there will be “a hundred or so” of these final pre-production Volts that will also act as a captured test fleet for mostly GM employees.

By November of 2010 the first saleable Volts will begin being built at the Hamtramck plant and shipped to dealerships.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Nissan to Partner With San Diego Gas and Electric

The Renault-Nissan Alliance, through Nissan, and San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E), the utility company operating in the San Diego, Calif., region, are forming a partnership to promote the development of an electric vehicle (EV) charging network.
Mule with new Nissan EV system. The production version will have a unique bodystyle. Click to enlarge.

Nissan plans to introduce ZEVs in the United States in 2010 and will mass market ZEVs globally two years later. The announcement coincides with the first stop on a coast-to-coast tour of Nissan’s EV Prototype, a vehicle that’s powered by Nissan’s lithium-ion battery pack and zero-emission electric motor. While this vehicle does not represent the design of Nissan’s electric vehicle that will be sold in 2010, the EV Prototype is an indicator of what’s to come in zero-emission mobility.

AESC module (inset) and pack for the EV prototype. Click to enlarge.

The latest generation electric vehicle prototype features a front-wheel drive layout and uses a newly developed 80 kW motor and inverter. The advanced laminated compact lithium-ion batteries are installed under the floor, preserving cabin and cargo space. (Earlier post.)

As part of the agreement, Nissan will assist SDG&E in EV acquisition as well as work with SDG&E to develop plans to promote a charging infrastructure for EVs. Together, Nissan and SDG&E will form a working team with area agencies, institutions and companies to work towards the implementation and maintenance of a battery charging network and establish and support education activities designed to promote the use of EVs.

Lori Holt Pfieler, Mayor, City of Escondido and Chair, San Diego Association of Governments; Stephen Cushman, Chairman of the Board of the Port of San Diego; and SDG&E CEO Debra Reed joined Nissan representatives in announcing the partnership at a ceremony at the Port of San Diego.

The Renault-Nissan Alliance has begun ZEV initiatives in Israel, Denmark, Portugal, the Principality of Monaco, Kanagawa Prefecture and Yokohama city (Japan), and has formed partnerships with the French electric utility company EDF, the Swiss electric utility company Energie Ouest Suisse, the private-car hire service “greentomatocars” (UK) and with zero-emission transport system company “elektromotive” (UK). In the United States, the Alliance has agreed to ZEV partnerships in the State of Tennessee, the State of Oregon, Sonoma County, Calif., and Tucson, Ariz., to explore ways to promote zero-emission mobility and the development of an electric-vehicle infrastructure.

San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) is a regulated public utility that provides energy service to 3.4 million consumers through 1.4 million electric meters and more than 840,000 natural gas meters in San Diego and southern Orange counties. The utility’s area spans 4,100 square miles. SDG&E is a subsidiary of Sempra Energy, a Fortune 500 energy services holding company based in San Diego.

Source : Green Car Congress

Monday, March 23, 2009

Winter Testing Results for the Chevy Volt Mules

The 30 or so Volt mules have completed their first winter test. Indeed, these mules were subjected to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and on into Canada. These tests are quite germane as much of the population lives in climates where Old Man Winter makes his presence felt. All of the testing on the Volt, its battery pack and drivetrain has been extremely positive and thus far, there is no reason to believe that the car will not meet its debut date of late 2010.

Thanks to GM-Volt.com for this article.

Spring is here, and the 30-odd Chevy Volt mules have passed through their first winter with flying colors I am told.

GM has tested the cars extensively at the Milford Michigan proving grounds, the Upper Peninsula (UP) of Michigan, and Kapuskasing, Ontario. Ten vehicles visited Kapuskasing and a few visited the upper peninsula.

The focus of the testing at the UP was more for chassis control development including stability control and braking. Battery work was not the primary task, as the lab environment is best for subjecting the battery pack to temperature extremes. Indeed those packs have been undergoing arduous temperature exposures for more than a year, with no problems identified.

In Canada, the focus of the testing was the propulsion system. The cars were kept indoors overnight, and then they were evaluated to see how they started and how they ran after a cold soak.

According to Voltec team leader Greg Ciesel, temperatures the mules were exposed to were “very much below zero,” and even at the Milford proving grounds “we got to probably minus 10 or 15 degrees F.”

Voltec spokesman Dave Darovitz said “Cold weather vehicle response depends on multiple factors including temperature, battery SOC, battery preconditioning (if plugged in) and if the vehicle was stored inside. Another factor is FMVSS defrost requirements, which demand more heat then we can supply electrically and cause the gas engine to turn on.”

He confirmed that testing was successful. “The cars performed as we expected under cold weather conditions,” he said “We still have some work ahead of us, but are encouraged with the operating conditions of the mules under very cold conditions.”

Volt lead engineer Andrew Farah gave an example of how a certain problem was discovered and fixed during the cold weather testing.. “We ran into some issues, we found out that we had a problem with one of our powertrain mounts,” he said “Why, because the car was going though some abusive driving…they told me we broke a mount. We did some analysis and we found things we knew about but we hadn’t gone far enough, it was an ‘aha’ moment and we fixed it.”

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Ford, in Conjunction with Wise Gas and Altech-Eco will bring CNG Focus to Market

Here is some great news for consumers in Florida. A CNG version of the Ford Focus is being made available to residents in Florida through the cooperative efforts of Wise Gas and Altech-Eco. The aftermarket retrofit allows the Focus to run on compressed natural gas (CNG) up to 300 miles before switching over to gasoline. Thus the Ford Focus CNG will become a bi-fuel vehicle, eliminating the "range anxiety" associated with vehicles that rely solely on CNG.

This is exactly the kind of effort we need to see in order to bring alt energy vehicles to market.

From Green Car Congress:

Wise Gas, Inc. and Altech-Eco have signed an exclusive agreement to bring EPA-certified dedicated and bi-fuel (gasoline/compressed natural gas) retrofitted Ford Focus vehicles (MY 2008 and 2009) to Florida consumers.

The bi-fuel CNG Ford Focus has the ability to run on CNG or gasoline and comes with a manufacturer-rated CNG cylinder of 9.1 GGE (Gasoline Gallon Equivalents), with a driving range of 218 - 318 miles with an average 35 mpg on highway and 24 in the city. The dedicated CNG option will be coming soon, according to Altech-Eco parent Transeco Energy.

The Ford Focus with CNG option is now available in Florida through Wise Gas, Inc. at approved aftermarket conversion facilities and should be available soon through participating Ford Dealerships. Ford Motor Credit has approved the financing for the incremental cost of CNG conversion.

Wise Gas, Inc. is in the permitting and planning process for the state’s first public CNG fueling station in South Florida.

As we continue to build CNG Fueling stations throughout the state of Florida, the bi-fuel option of Altech-Eco’s Ford Focus retrofit allows consumers the freedom to enjoy the benefits of driving on CNG without the fear of being stranded without fuel availability. We look forward to the near future when we believe people will be able to drive across the state with CNG widely and readily available.

—Christine Slager, Wise Gas Communications Manager

Saturday, March 21, 2009

GM's Battery Strategy and Approach to Future Volt Generations

The 2010 Chevy Volt

General Motors has revealed its strategy for the future and its commitment to the electrification of the automobile. This article examines the current state of the Volt battery and how GM will "reuse" components and use them across a wide variety of vehicles. Then, GM explains the future of the battery and what we can expect in second and third Volt iterations.

From Green Car Congresss:

Three key General Motors executives involved with the Chevrolet Volt this week held a media briefing on the state of GM’s battery pack strategy for the Chevrolet Volt and its current Gen 1 pack as well as subsequent generations (Gen 2 and Gen 3) of battery packs destined for the underlying Voltec platform. They also delivered an update on the progress of the Volt’s development cycle.

Executive Director of Global Engineering–Hybrids, Electric Vehicles, and Batteries Robert Kruse, Volt Vehicle Chief Engineer Andrew Farah, and Director of Global Battery Systems Engineering Denise Gray took turns describing work completed so far as well as next steps for the project.

GM is emphasizing the role of thermal management and control systems in the overall pack and vehicle performance. Click to enlarge.

Kruse took particular care to note that, while having an excellent battery cell is important, the cell is just the starting place. GM views its value-add to the overall pack—and hence to the vehicle—as the thermal management and electronic controls. That rationale lies behind the company’s determination to manufacture the modules and packs for its vehicles in its own plant. (Earlier post.)

Kruse said that GM has developed all the software, electronic controls and pack engineering in-house, and that the process will continue with the portfolio into the future. GM regards the ability to do so as a core competency, and GM therefore made the strategic decision to have that capability inside the company.

Undertray of the Volt, showing the integration of the T- shaped battery pack as a structural element. Click to enlarge.

The current state of the Volt. More than 30 mules—similar-sized Chevrolet vehicles that have been modified to accept Volt powertrains—are already up and running, with another 50 expected to be built and put through their paces by the summer.

The team reiterated its commitment to the Volt’s 40-mile all-electric range (AER), especially as compared to a vehicle with the attendant costs of a battery pack with a several-hundred-mile all- electric range, but said that no commitment had yet been made on the business model (e.g. sale or lease) that will be employed for the Volt’s 16 kWh battery pack when the vehicle goes on sale November 2010, a date to which GM remains “confident and committed,” according to Kruse.

Undercarriage of the Volt during the 35 mph crash test. The battery pack is the orange T-shaped element. Click to enlarge.

A 35 MPH frontal crash test has already been conducted on at least one Volt mule to the satisfaction of the company, with particular emphasis given to the integrity of the battery pack during the test. Kruse also emphasized GM’s preference for fast charging as opposed to the “battery swap” model promoted by Better Place, which would require a significantly different chassis design and which Kruse termed “problematic”.

We began in January 2007, we are on track, and I think in some places we have accelerated our learning,”" commented Denise Gray, who runs GM’s battery development labs, which the company says are the largest in the country. “We spent all of 2008 evaluating cells.

Despite current market conditions, GM is still aggressively developing talent from within the company, with fifty engineers currently enrolled in a “learn while you earn” program related to the Volt, and another 50 expected to be transferred to the program this summer.

While officials emphasized that they are satisfied with the chemistry, thermal management, controls, and performance of the vehicle’s current battery pack, costs per kWh remain high, and development beyond the current pack is primarily focused on cost reduction. Gray noted that the costs of battery-powered personal electronics have declined sharply and expressed optimism that the transport sector might see similar gains. Each of Volt’s 200-plus battery cells will initially be produced in South Korea by LG Chem. However, GM plans to move battery production to the US as soon as possible.

Although the team declined to specify a cost per kilowatt-hour for the Volt during the briefing, Jon Lauckner, Vice President of Global Program Management, rebuffed speculation earlier this month, writing on the GM Fastlane blog (earlier post) that the current Volt battery pack is “many hundreds of dollars less” than the US$1,000 per kWh cited in a recent Carnegie Mellon study, and that “new concepts” promise to move the cost to as low as $US 250 per kWh.

Remarking that “I’m only going to do this job once,” Kruse mentioned another cost-cutting measure: the decision to design the global platform to more stringent European Union recyclability standards.

Gen 2, Gen 3 and Reusability. GM, said Kruse, is “thinking long term with our EV strategy.”

We are making a significant investment in vehicle electrification in the Volt, the Voltec powertrain and the battery itself. We believe that vehicle electrification is the future of the industry...and that master of battery technology is key to us and our success. We still have a lot of work to do. We are very encouraged by what we have done so far, and are gaining optimism with experience and exposure.

Because of our commitment, we have resources working on Gen 2 and Gen 3 [battery packs] while we are still launching the Gen 1 system. That speaks to our long-term commitment to vehicle electrification.

—Bob Kruse
GM’s “reuse” strategy. Click to enlarge.

The primary motivation for the Gen 2 and Gen 3 systems is to reduce cost, to make it more viable for the mass market, Kruse said. The GM team did not engage in a deeper discussion of the potential relative contribution of cells, thermal management and controls to reducing the cost in Gen 2 and Gen 3, but Kruse did say that “as we get close to production, we’ll take the cover off of the T pack, and you’ll see the sophistication and elegance of design.

Kruse did outline what GM is calling its “reuse” strategy in the battery area—i.e., the ability to apply cells, modules and packs across different vehicles:

  • Cells. Cells of the same specification will be widely applied in a range of vehicles.

  • Modules. Cell modules will be used across a class of vehicles/applications.

  • Complete packs (including controls). Complete packs will be applied across vehicles within a architecture. The Volt pack, for example, will be applied in the Opel Ampera.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Nissan to Offer Plug-in EV in 2010

The 2010 Nissan EV

For whatever reason, the year 2010 has been chosen as the year of the electric vehicle. It seems as if every auto manufacturer is debuting one form or another of the electric car. Some will be plug-in hybrids and some will be all electric but most of all, they will be here in 2010.

Case in point is the Nissan EV, which is a late comer to the media party and was only recently announced. Originally, Nissan was going to offer the car in 2012 but this announcement moves the date up significantly. With a 100 mile range, this car will be the answer to most everyone's commuting needs. I want one!

From the timesfreepress.com:

A top Nissan official in the U.S. said Monday that Tennessee is one of the first locations where it will sell its new all-electric car after it arrives in late 2010.

Also, the company eventually would like to make the car and its batteries in Smyrna, Tenn., and the Chattanooga area is in line for electric refueling infrastructure for the new vehicle, said Mark Perry, director of product planning and strategy for Nissan North America.

“Tennessee will be a launch market,” said Mr. Perry, additionally mentioning Oregon and Sonoma County, Calif.

The car will seat five and be in the size range of a Sentra or Versa, he told the Chattanooga Engineers Club.

“It will have 100 miles of pure battery range,” Mr. Perry said. He said Toyota’s 2010 Prius hybrid electric gets about 10 miles range on pure battery, while the planned Chevy Volt will get 40.

Mr. Perry said the Nissan, running on a lithium ion battery pack, won’t be a test model.

“We’re ready to go mass production and mass sales,” he said.

The Nissan official said that while the cost for a conventional vehicle of similar size may range from $28,000 to $30,000, the federal government is offering a tax credit of up to $7,500 on the electric. There also will be other steps to lower the buyer’s initial costs.

He said maintenance costs will be about $1,350 lower annually for the pure electric vehicle than a conventional car.

“The pay back is immediate,” Mr. Perry said. He estimated the cost to “fill the tank” in the Tennessee Valley at about 90 cents, and it will take about four to eight hours to do so at a residence.

Mr. Perry said plans are to get that time frame down to four hours in 2012.

Jim Frierson, who directs the Advanced Transportation Technology Institute in Chattanooga, said Nissan’s plans are “music to our ears.”

He said the drive for putting electric vehicles on the road is “the space race of the decade.”

In terms of recharging infrastructure, plans are to start in the Nashville-Murfreesboro-Franklin area. Nissan’s USA headquarters are located in Franklin. Then, plans are to gain infrastructure in Knoxville and Chattanooga and eventually into North Carolina, Mr. Perry said.

While the car will be made in Japan at first, Mr. Perry said the company likes to produce vehicles where they’re purchased.

GM and Chrysler May Need More Loans Than Originally Thought

Here is some sobering news for the day. According to an auto panel chief, both GM and Chrysler could need "considerably" more money than the $21.6 billion in loans requested to date. The obvious question is, "When will the borrowing end?" Will these two automakers ever recover from their current plight?

From Automotive News:

The co-leader of the U.S. auto task force said General Motors and Chrysler may need "considerably'' more than the $21.6 billion they're seeking to stay afloat, Bloomberg News reported.

"It could be considerably higher; I won't deny that," Steven Rattner said in an interview on Bloomberg Television's "Political Capital with Al Hunt" program, scheduled for broadcast later today. He made the comment in response to a question about whether the aid sought could rise to as much as $30 billion or $40 billion.

The task force is scheduled to decide by March 31 if GM and Chrysler merit more help. GM has received $13.4 billion in loans so far and seeks $16.6 billion more; Chrysler has tapped $4 billion and says it needs an additional $5 billion.

"What they've asked for depends on them achieving plans that are somewhat ambitious," Rattner was quoted as saying. "Like all management teams, they tend to take a reasonably, slightly perhaps, optimistic view of their business. So it could be more. I can't rule that out."

Rattner, a financier, and Ron Bloom, former assistant to the president of the United Steelworkers union, are the two senior advisers on the auto panel.

Rattner was also quoted making comments on these issues:

Setting a deadline for concessions

"Part of why there's a lack of appearance of movement is nobody wants to go first."

"You say here's the deadline, everybody has to get there by this date or we're going to do something else."

GM bondholders

"The government cannot solve everybody's problems, and we need for the bondholders to become part of this in a constructive way."

Chrysler's future, and its proposed alliance with Fiat

"We have not made a determination on whether they could exist on a stand-alone basis, but we do find their idea of partnership with Fiat a worthy idea to consider."

GM CEO Rick Wagoner and Chrysler's Robert Nardelli

"They're good guys really trying hard to run those companies."

"I have nothing bad to say about them."

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid

The 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid

Ford has announced a base price of $27,270 for its new 2010 Fusion Hybrid sedan. Basic features like dual-zone climate control, automatic headlights, keyless entry, power windows, mirrors, and locks, capless refueling, traction control, and ABS are all standard equipment. Also included is a six-speaker stereo, eco-responsible seats, 17-inch wheels, traction control, and a reverse sensor.

Ford has high hopes for the Fusion hybrid, which can operate on the electric power at up to 47 miles per hour. The hybrid features a 2.5-liter inline-four with 155 horsepower and 136 pound-feet of torque bolted up to a CVT transmission.

The Fusion uses a beefier NiMH battery pack and can travel up to 47 mph in electric mode. The Ford Fusion's strongest selling point will be is city mileage rating of about 40 mpg, which is only topped by the Toyota Prius. All car makers should strive for better city mileages as the majority of commutes entail this type of driving.

Ford has collaborated with design consultant group Ideo to create a new system to monitor fuel economy and other information. The system, clumsily dubbed SmartGauge with EcoGuide, is a reconfigurable gauge cluster made up of a large, centrally located analog speedometer flanked by two 4.3-inch LCD displays. Four default layouts can be chosen as a basis of customization, from a bare-bones look at vital vehicle stats to an information-laden view designed for—and with the help of—hypermilers. Why Ford wants to promote the dangerous driving techniques involved with hypermiling, I'm not sure.

The SmartGauge displays are bright and easy to read, but I worry that this is another step toward total driver distraction. One such distraction is a display featuring a tree branch that grows more leaves as the vehicle is driven in what’s determined to be an environmentally friendly manner. Drive like a hooligan, though, and you’ll kill the tree. This hokey, literal interpretation of efficient driving can be turned off or substituted for a more useful gauge, but it will be interesting to wipe out whole forests once you drive the car.

Again, there is one feature that Ford forgot to add, namely a plug. This car could have been designed infinitely better with the ability to plug in at home and recharge the battery pack. Given a 10 to 15 mile all-electric range and its top speed of 47 mph, imagine running all your errands without the gasoline engine ever starting.

This car will be a winner for Ford and hopefully, they will produce enough of them to meet demand.

GM Hosts Press Conference Proving The Success of Their Batteries to Date

General Motors continues the exhaustive testing of the Lithium ion batteries that are so crucial to their upcoming Volt. The electric drivetrain married to this battery pack has been named "Voltec" and will be used in many other GM products, including the Opel Flextreme. Everything we are hearing from GM is positive and they claim to be on track to sell the Chevy Volt in late 2010.

From GM-Volt.com:

GM hosted a press conference on their battery strategy and GMs director of EVs and HEVs Bob Kruse wrote a blog post about it.

As we know, the Volt lithium-ion cell contract went to LG Chem of Korea. Mainly the decision to choose them over A123 was based on the fact that LG was ready with cells sooner, and had a much larger production capacity and longer track record. According to Denise Gray, GM’s advanced battery director, the lithium-manganese chemistry of LG chem was “not significantly different” in energy density or power density characteristics than the lithium iron phosphate chemistry of A123 cells. In fact, A123 cells and packs continue to undergo testing.

GMs main point of the conference was reiterate that they are doing the pack design, engineering, and software controls in-house. So while LG or someone else may make an excellent cell, GM intends to make the best pack and become the worlds best electric car battery make maker. This gives them competitive advantage over car companies that are “married” to a specific cell supplier. Gray is convinced batteries will continue to advance in the future and right now GM is testing cells from “more than a dozen suppliers.”

Kruse confirms GM will soon open a large advanced battery lab within their Warren Technical Center in addition to the Volt’s battery assembly plant. That plant he notes “will be the first lithium-ion battery manufacturing plant operated by a major automaker in the U.S., and will create new “green” jobs.”

He advises us that GM is already working and second and third generation designs for these battery packs, and current ones have already evolved considerably from the first prototype packs GM received a year and a half ago.

Future generation Volt packs will continue to deliver the goal 40 miles of all electric range but will be considerably less expensive. Costs will be cut in several ways. Economy of scale will bring down production costs for the cells. GM and LG are also studying ways to tweak the chemistry perhaps removing expensive elements within the chemical mixture. The packs will also become more refined. ” Fewer parts leads to lower costs,” according to Andrew Farah, the Volt’s lead engineer. In addition to fewer parts Gray notes the current first generation packs have “a lot of bells and whistles” in terms of temperature and control management and suggests this safety overkill may not all needed.

The present crop of mules are performing flawlessly by the accounts of all involved and that the only surprises so far have been “pleasant ones” with respect to how perfectly they and their batteries have been performing.

It was also acknowledged and demonstrated that the Cruze-mules have already undergone considerable crash safety testing. The design of having the battery enclosed in the central tunnel has proven to be extremely safe. The graphic above illustrates what happens to the pack as filmed from below as the mule is crashed into a concrete barrier at 35 mph. Nothing. No breach has occurred.

We are at a turning point. As long as GM can hold on financially we will be seeing some beautiful things called integration vehicles in the coming months.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A Look at The 2010 Toyota Prius

The 2010 Toyota Prius

The Toyota Prius is the most successful hybrid vehicle of all time. It is so successful that it makes a profit for the Toyota Motor Company. Toyota realizes this fact and they are constantly trying to refine their product and make it more appealing to the masses.

The 2010 model is new for the Prius and includes some nice changes. The new Prius will be somewhat longer (around 3 inches), maintains the same height and also maintains the four doors and hatchback. One of the biggest improvements is the addition of a 1.6 liter four cylinder engine, which will increase horsepower and increase fuel efficiency. It is officially rated at 50 mpg, which is a significant increase over the current model, which is rated at 46 mpg. The only thing missing from this car is a plug and a bigger battery for driving in electric mode.

Toyota considers the 2010 Prius to be the fourth generation and a fully loaded model will top $30,000. This may present problems as the new Honda Insight will start with an MSRP of $22,000.

Will the Prius continue its strong sales showing? Which would you prefer, the 2010 Prius or the 2010 Insight?